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Chapter 1

by Lady Moondancer

Links: [Chapter 2]

Without the parchment, Moonstone would never have left the castle, and without the bushwoolies, Moonstone would never have acquired the parchment, but it was the bathroom faucet that truly spurred him into action.

He'd tried everything . . . shutting the bathroom door, putting a pillow over his head, stuffing tissues up the faucet, soundly cursing the offending plumbing with every obscenity he knew, but nothing could stifle the maddening drip-drip-dripping that was clearly audible even after he pushed the bed as far from the bathroom as possible. And so, despite the frost feathering the windows and a wind chill that made his eyes wince shut, the powder blue unicorn bundled up in his warmest clothes and stalked out of the inn.

The watery sunlight provided no warmth, though it gave the snowdrifts a brilliant, sparkling glow and gleamed on Moonstone's rainbow mane. Snow packed down to a smooth and icy whiteness squeaked under the unicorn's hooves and faintly reflected his colorful tail as he walked down the longest street in town. It was also the shortest street, since it was in fact the only street in the tiny village of Snowvale, lapping in a circle around the stone wall surrounding the little settlement.

Snowvale. Aptly named, thought Moonstone. Back in Dream Valley the crocuses were blooming as the last icicles melted themselves to nothing, but Snowvale had received several inches of snow only yesterday and the icy berms flanking the street towered so that the little houses and shop (singular) behind them were barely visible. Despite the town's high elevation, mountains in the west reared to even greater heights.

"I hope it's not up there," Moonstone muttered aloud.

"What's that, sonny?"

Moonstone turned to see an elderly mare dumping a shovelful of snow off the roof of a faded blue house.

He didn't answer immediately, instead winking himself to the top of the snow berm in a flash of magic. The speaker, he saw, was a pegasus with pink hair and a white body that blended in with the snowy background.

"How long until the snow melts off, would you say?" the unicorn asked her.

The pegasus leaned on her shovel, scratching her chin. "A month, month and a half mebbe."

Moonstone scowled. Too long!

The blue unicorn swung around moodily. Unfortunately he failed to recall that he was atop a large, slippery mountain of frozen snow until his first step. His front hooves scrambled for a purchase as he leaned backwards, and he slid gracelessly to street level on his rump. The fact that the old pegasus watched this debacle without any sign of either sympathy or amusement somehow made it worse. Moonstone picked himself up and hurried down the street with as much dignity as he could salvage, his head held high.

Soon he was stepping through the wooden gates set in the town's defensive wall, privately questioning what kind of vicious beasts justified building ten foot walls around a dinky village. He shrugged and trotted through the gate anyway. He wasn't immune to fear by any means. He just reserved it until he was face to face with something with glowing eyes and too many teeth. Right now his biggest concern was that he'd die of boredom waiting for the melt-off.

Two months! Two months with nothing to do. Well, he was at least going to learn the geography of the area, the lay of the land, in the meantime. It would save time, he told himself. It did indeed. He got caught in a blizzard in the middle of the wilderness that very day, instead of having to wait two weeks until the next one.

Elsewhere, and elsewhen.

"Well that was a . . . different Winter Wrap Up," Twilight said, picking her scarf off the ground and trying to rub the dirty hoofmarks off of it.

"Wow, that was AMAZING," Pinkie Pie squealed. "How did Ditzy FIND them?"

"I didn't even know there were pterodactyls living in Equestria," Fluttershy confessed.

Applejack gazed skyward, where the pegasus ponies had just managed to shoo the last of the leathery winged birds—or whatever the hay those ptero-thingies were—into a hastily built cage made of clouds. She could just make out the grey-coated form of Ditzy Doo, who seemed to be gesturing in explanation, and Rainbow Dash, who seemed to be burying her forehead in her hooves.

"Well, they sure did wake up the li'l critters right fast," the farmer pony ventured. As soon as the first yawning bunny had caught sight of the flying reptiles, it had thumped its foot in a frantic warning, waking up half the animals before Fluttershy even strung up her bells.

"What I wonder is where the southern birds are," Fluttershy said in concern. "I hope they're all right."

"I'm sure they're fine, my dear," Rarity reassured her, patting her shoulder. "I suspect Ditzy merely took a wrong turn again."

"I'LL say!" Rainbow Dash landed in front of them. "From what she told me, she drifted southeast. Then she found this dead volcano with a big crater in the middle and all these huge lizards in it that were as big as an Ursa Minor and some of them had spikes and stuff and it sounds totally awesome—" She realized she had switched from exasperated to enthusiastic somewhere in her description. She coughed into her hoof and put on a frown as she added, "But NOT during Winter Wrap Up. Eh heh heh."

Pinkie giggled. "Are you kidding? It made Winter Wrap Up even more fun! They were all 'whoosh!', and I was all 'ahhhh!', and then Fluttershy and Applejack—"

"Yes, Pinkie, we were there,” Twilight Sparkle cut her off.  “At least it'll make an interesting letter to Princess Celestia," the purple unicorn added, trying to look on the bright side despite the fact that her scarf would never be the same after falling in the midst of a stampede of panicking ponies.

"Yep. Dear Princess Celestia, today I learned that big flyin' lizards and little tweetie birds ain't the same thing."

All the ponies chuckled, and Rainbow Dash grinned. "I gotta admit—I'm impressed that Ditzy convinced them to follow her."

"Indeed, they seem to feel right at home," Rarity said, pointing a hoof and raising an eyebrow. The others followed her gaze to see a pterodactyl that had evaded capture sitting happily in a hoof-made nest that was at least one hundred and twenty percent too small for it. It clacked its beak happily as the branch sagged.

"As interesting as they are, I'm afraid they'll have to go," Twilight said. "Who knows what effect they'd have on Ponyville! Do we even know what they eat?"

"Ooooo, maybe cupcakes!" Pinkie Pie began to bounce off to find some, but Applejack absently stepped on her tail, pinning it to the ground. Unperturbed, the pink earth pony continued to bounce in place.

"If they get a hankering for apples, they could wipe out my whole crop."

"Yeah, and if they eat animals—well, I'm sure they don't eat animals," Rainbow Dash corrected herself quickly, noticing Fluttershy's eyes get wider.  “Anyway, I’d better go round up some pegasuses—”

"Pegasi," said Rarity.

"—to herd them back to that volcano." The rainbow-haired pegasus glanced up at the cloud cage, smiling at the thought of seeing some of the weirder creatures Ditzy Doo had described.  

“Wait!  Wait!  Before you take them back I want to sketch them.  I can’t wait to tell the princess all about them!”  Twilight’s eyes lit up.  “They might even be listed in my books—an animal like this could easily be exaggerated into a mythical monster.”

“What needs exaggeratin’? ” Applejack wondered.

“And Fluttershy, do you think you can get me a sample of their feathers . . . er, that is . . . Hair? Scales?" She looked at the beast roosting in the nest. "Scales.”

“Of course, Twilight.”  Fluttershy smiled first at the purple unicorn, then at the avian.

“Okay, thanks!  I just need to grab my notebook and some reference guides—oh, and I’ll get The Geographer’s Big Book of Geography for you, Rainbow, to help guide you to the volcano.”

“Uh, thanks,” said Rainbow Dash, picturing herself trying to fly hundreds of miles while clutching a heavy tome.

“Be right back, girls!  Ohhh, this is going to be so much fun!" She was still clapping her hooves together in excitement as she teleported away.

"That's our Twi," Applejack chuckled. "Happy as a hog with a slop bucket when there's an excuse to crack open a book."

"Thank you for that . . . colorful simile, Applejack." Rarity managed to suggest that she was wrinkling her nose without actually doing so.  “I for one am simply relieved that winter was successfully wrapped up on time. And without casualties.”

“Yay, it’s spring!  Time to . . . spring!”  Pinkie Pie bounded across the meadow, and, somehow, jumped on the pond like a trampoline.

"And it’s a lovely day,” Fluttershy said, scritching the contented pterodactyl behind its ear, or rather where its ear should have been.

"Heck yeah! And now that the sky's clear, it's time for some serious flying! I've been sitting on this idea for a new trick all winter—"

"Oooo! Did it hatch?"  Pinkie stopped bouncing and sunk into water up to her ankles.

"—and it's gonna knock the Wonderbolts off. their. FEET!" Rainbow Dash rocketed into the air with a huge grin.

The other ponies backed away, already familiar with the blue pegasus' ability to knock ponies off their feet.  And they continued backing up, right to the edge of the pond, since Rainbow Dash kept swooping alarmingly close, shouting enthusiastic explanations as she blurred past.  


Applejack clamped her hooves to her hat to keep it from blowing away.


Rarity’s perfectly coifed mane caught in the breeze and tumbled over her face.


Fluttershy squeaked and covered her eyes.


Pinkie Pie smiled merrily, not blinking an eye as Rainbow Dash nearly took off her nose.  “Go Dashie!” she cheered, waving some pompoms that had appeared from nowhere.

There was no doubt about it, Rainbow Dash’s newest trick was an impressive sight.  She etched three orbital loops in the air, their centers overlapping.  Her speed and her rainbow wake made the pattern appear to hang solidly in the air, made of rainbows, wind, and a sky blue blur tracing the pattern over and over.  It would’ve been safer to fly higher, but Rainbow Dash let her hooves brush the grass at the lowest dip of the loop, reveling in her skill.  

The wind stung her eyes but she grinned, pumping her wings as she caught a brief glimpse of her friends staring in awe.  None of them would truly understand the difficulty of keeping a constant speed, not overshooting at the apex at the top of a loop or crashing into the ground at the base of it, remembering which direction was sky and which was ground when gravity seemed to have given up and gone home early.   But they knew cool when they saw it.  

“PRETTY NEAT, HUH?” she called.

What happened next was not exactly anyone’s fault.  

Rainbow Dash could not have known Twilight Sparkle and Spike would teleport into the rings of the Atomic Aerial Rainbow.  

Twilight Sparkle could not have known she’d be greeted by a pegasus-propelled whirlwind instead of a gentle spring breeze.  

Spike could not have known that grabbing Twilight’s neck in a panicked, vice-like grip would cause her second attempt at teleporting—destination “anywhere but here”—to fizzle, releasing the magic she had gathered.  

The 50 pounds of reference books Twilight Sparkle had brought from the library could not have known anything at all, being inanimate objects—but being books, they probably did anyway.  

Twilight Sparkle gave a cry of anguish, perhaps from fright, perhaps because pages were being torn from the library books as the wind pulled them into the rainbow circuits surrounding her.

“Rainbow Dash, stop!” cried Twilight as the empty, battered cover of The Geographer’s Big Guide to Geography flapped past.

“I CAAAN’T!”  The books weren’t the only things that had been pulled into Rainbow’s wake—magical energy surged around her, freed from Twilight’s control—and while it followed Rainbow Dash’s trail, it also pulled her along. Ahead, a storm of churning paper obscured her vision.  She had to break out of the loop, but what was above her right now, earth or sky?   All she could see was white and an occasional flash of Twilight with Spike clinging to her leg.  Rainbow Dash fought down panic as a page plastered over her eyes. A frantic  toss of her head to send it swirling away.  

And again, what happened next really was not anyone’s fault.  

It was not Rainbow Dash’s fault that the page hit the magic with a sizzle or that this particular leaf, full of occult symbols and speculations and the first known magic, which is knowledge, sent the arcane energy jolting through the three overlapping rings into overdrive.  

It was not Fluttershy’s fault that her grab at Rainbow’s tail did nothing but pull her after the blue pegasus.  

It was not Rarity’s fault, nor Applejack’s, that their attempt to leap into the storm and pull Twilight to safety came just a moment too late.  

And it was certainly not Twilight Sparkle’s fault, trapped as she was, that the entire sphere outlined by the Atomic Aerial Rainbow flared with occult energy so bright that the rainbow colors washing over its surface were barely visible.

One could argue that Pinkie Pie could have alerted the others to the Pinkie Sense “combo” that had hit her moments before—ear flop, eye flutter, knee-twitch—a sign to watch out for opening doors.  But it probably would not have changed much had she had spoken up, and who wants to blame Pinkie Pie for anything, really?   Never one to shirk danger where her friends were involved, she leaped towards the sphere, cutting its surface with a perfect swan dive.

The ponies disappeared but the sphere remained for a few minutes, glowing and thrumming.  The pterodactyl, perched more on than in the pony-made nest, regarded the it with interest.  This place offered as much excitement as the volcano, and, as a bonus, here it didn’t come from almost being eaten.  Its ancient reptilian brain came to a decision.  It stretched its wings and flew lazily into the sphere.  A moment later the magical glow disappeared with a pop, like a soap bubble.

Somewhere, somewhen, it started to snow.

Links: [Chapter 2]



Chapter 2

by Lady Moondancer

Links: [<< Chapter 1 | Chapter 3 >>]


The ponies staggered, disoriented from the unintended teleportation.  All except the two pegasus ponies;  they were enjoying an aerial view of their new destination.  Also unintentionally.


It had been an eventful day for all the ponies, particularly Rainbow Dash.  She had fought pterodactyls, almost visited a crazy volcano, tried an (awesome!) new flying trick, and teleported through a magic portal that made her feel like she was being turned inside out.  The day promised further interest as the magic released her from her orbital path, but did nothing to lessen her momentum or speed.


"AHHHHHHHHHH!!!" The other ponies gaped as the blue pegasus bulleted across the sky in an uncontrolled spiral.  With a deathgrip on Rainbow Dash's tail and a resigned expression on her face, Fluttershy fishtailed wildly behind her.   It might have been her added weight that allowed Rainbow Dash to fight into an upright position and snap her wings out in a sudden stop.  


A yellow and pink blur streaked past as Fluttershy was slingshotted over her head.  Rainbow Dash heard, from an increasingly distant voice, "oh deeeeeeeeaaaar—"


"Fluttershy!"  Rainbow Dash clapped her hooves to her mouth in horror as she watched Fluttershy arc right across the valley, her crash landing on a distant hill marked by a poof of snow.  Rainbow Dash was about to shoot after her, but pulled up to avoid crashing into the pterodactyl that had appeared out of absolutely nowhere, lazily winging through the sky.


"Don't worry, Rainbow Dash, I'll get her," offered Pinkie Pie, who had recovered more quickly than her friends.  Rainbow Dash reluctantly left the task to her, only because her wings ached so much after being magically propelled through the loops of the Atomic Aerial Rainbow at super-equine speeds.


As Pinkie bounced off across the snow, Twilight Sparkle stared around her with her hooves still over her head.  "W-where are we?"


"You mean you don't know?" Rarity asked with concern in her voice.   She was lying on her back with her hair in a tangle over her eyes, her hindquarters elevated by something she strongly suspected was Applejack's rump.  It was not an appropriate or dignified pose for a lady, but Rarity had decided to put her poise on hold until her head stopped spinning.


"Wherever we are, it's freezing. And SNOWING!  Why is it SNOWING?" Rainbow Dash added, wrinkling her nose as a single, stray snowflake landed on it.


Applejack groaned.  "Would ya mind keepin' your voice down just now, Rainbow?  My head feels like a freshly bucked apple tree."  She stood up, causing Rarity to squeak as her hindlegs thumped onto the ground.  "Oops—sorry 'bout that, Rare."


"Qu.  Quite all right, Applejack,"  Rarity said with a quick smile.  "I'm just . . . glad we're all together.  Still without casualties, ah ha ha ha."


"Uh . . . aren't you gonna get up too?" Applejack asked cautiously.


"All in good time, my dear.  All in good time."


"Oh no!" Twilight gasped suddenly, pushing herself into a sitting position.  "Spike!  Where's Spike?"


"Mmmph!  Mmmph!"


"Spike??  Oh, thank goodness."  The purple unicorn's head swiveled around.  Where are you?"


Applejack gazed at a small purple hand waving from the snow.  That was under Twilight.  "Uh, Twi . . . I think you're sittin' on him."


Twilight froze, then leapt up with a sheepish grin.  "Sorry about that, number one assistant."


"Geez, Twilight, you need to lose some weight," complained the baby dragon, shaking snow off his green and purple scales.  "What happened? Did one of your spells mess up again?"


"This was NOT one of my spells messing up aga—it was not one of my spells messing up."  Twilight stomped her hoof so hard she sank into the snow up to her elbow.  "Somehow Rainbow Dash's trick—"


"The Atomic Aerial Rainbow."


"—combined with raw magical energy to send us . . . somewhere," the unicorn finished lamely.


"Your magical energy?" Spike raised an eyebrow.


Twilight gave him a look that was a good imitation of Fluttershy's Stare.  "That isn't. the point.  The point is we need to get back.  Spike, take down a letter to Princess Celestia—"


"With what?"


Twilight paused.  All her quills and parchment were back in Ponyville and the remains of the much-abused library books (rest in peace, sweet tomes, and flights of choir books sing thee to thy rest) seemed to have been incinerated by the spell.   "—okay, we'll wait on the letter.  Our first priority is to find out where we—"  A frigid wind whipped across the snowy plain, straight through her bones, and Twilight reordered her priorities.  "—to find some shelter."


"What about Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie?"  Applejack looked worried.


"I can teleport them back here."  Twilight Sparkle tried to sound confident.  Sure, she had only ever tried teleporting one extra pony at a time, and only until her test subject, Fluttershy, had said that if it wouldn't be too much trouble she would like to opt out of any further experiments, please, because she was tired of her tail catching fire.  Twilight tried to ignore the skepticism plainly written on Spike's face.  "You girls—"  "Ahem." "—and Spike go on ahead, get out of the cold."


Rainbow Dash flicked her tail.  Deep in her being she felt that SHE should be the one to rescue Fluttershy since she had kinda accidentally catapulted her to begin with.  But Twilight's teleport spell thingie would be faster and Dash's wings still felt like noodles. "Okay," she reluctantly conceded.  "Fluttershy landed over that-a-way. We'll wait for you, uh—"


"By that big rock at the base of that ridge," Rarity said, her mane somehow arranged in a perfect, delicate curl once more.


Twilight looked at the large rock capped with snow at the far side of the valley and nodded.  "Good choice.  See you girls—"  "Ahem."  "—and Spike soon.  I was GOING to say 'and Spike', honestly."   She rolled her eyes as she teleported away.


"Race you guys to the rock!" Rainbow Dash said, trying to raise her spirits, but she did not complain when Applejack told her there was a time and place for racing and this weren't it.  They trudged across the snow, three ponies longing to get out of the cold and one baby dragon longing for a romantic date with Rarity. A starry night, the flicker of a single candle, maybe some rubies with a magma glaze for dinner . . .


The skies had opened so quietly and gently that none of them were sure when it had started to snow.  The flakes started out small, but by the time they reached the rock they had graduated to large, wet snowflakes that caught together in feathery masses as they spun to the ground.


"We're here, what a relief.  And look, there's a little outcropping over here.  A . . . very little outcropping, but I dare say we can all fit in there if we squeeze."


"Ugh, it's full of snow and stuff," Rainbow Dash said, eyeing the small cave-like crevice with distaste.


"Musta blown in there.  With a little horsepower we can scrape it out an'—

Spike interrupted her with a gesture, holding up his hand.  "Excuse me, ladies, but I've got this one."   He sucked in a breath that made his cheeks bulge and expelled it as a blast of green flames.  The snow melted before their eyes, evaporating in a gust of steam.


"Oh, that was most helpful, Spike, thank you."  Rarity patted the little dragon's head as he gazed rapturously up at her.


"Heck yeah, you even warmed up the rocks!"  Rainbow Dash laid down in the newly cleared space, stretching her limbs (all six of them) luxuriously.


"It ain't JUST for you, Rainbow," Applejack reminded her.  "Now shove on over and let the rest of us in."  


Grumbling a little, Rainbow Dash did so.  "It's not my fault I need more space, I have WINGS."  She opened them, batting the other two ponies in the face.


"Rainbow Dash," Rarity's voice was slightly muffled.  "Please be so kind as to remove these lovely feathers before I use them for my next hat."


Rainbow Dash snapped her wings shut with an indignant gasp.  "You wouldn't!"


Rarity gave her a steely gaze.  "Oh wouldn't I?"  


"I'll help you make it, Rarity!" Spike eagerly put in.


"Uh, good job findin' this here cave, Rarity!"  Applejack said, reaching out a foreleg to pull Spike to her other side, away from Rainbow Dash and, for that matter, Rarity.  "I reckon we'll have to find something a mite bigger when Twilight gets here with t'other two, though."


Rarity nodded.  "I saw another small shelf on the other side of the rock—not as comfortable as this one, mind you, because it faces the wind, but better than nothing.  Perhaps I should go over and examine it more thoroughly—"


Applejack shook her head.  "Best wait for the others to come back.  No sense in freezing your patootie off before ya need to."


"My . . . oh yes, that.   Well," the white unicorn sighed, "I supposed you're right."


Spike sat down and picked a little pebble off the ground, tasting it and making a face.  "Hey guys . . . where do you think we are?"


The ponies looked at one another.  It was the obvious question.  The annual Winter Wrap Up had begun that morning. All across Equestria ponies should be welcoming spring.  So how could it be snowing outside?


"I reckon we're be far enough outta some town or 'nother that they ain't got round to cleaning up the snow and all yet."


"Indeed—for years it took Ponyville more than a single day to wrap up winter, I'm sure such is the case in many other areas as well," Rarity said.


"I'll bet we're near Seaddle, I've heard they're really lax about cleaning up clouds on time," Rainbow Dash added, selectively ignoring the fact that Cloudsdale sent Seaddle nothing but rain clouds.


"Wherever we are, we're safe an' dry an' we got a dragon fireline straight to the princess soon as we find some paper," Applejack said, smiling at Spike.  "So don't you worry none."


"And you'll have something to rib Twilight about, right?"  Rainbow Dash grinned, elbowing Spike.


"Oh, you'd better believe it!  I'm never gonna let her live this one down!"  Spike smiled and took advantage of a rare opportunity to snuggle close to Rarity.  And if the smile she gave him was more maternal than he would've liked . . . oh well.


The three ponies also settled themselves as best as they could on the uneven, rocky floor. If they felt an underlying unease about their location or predicament, none of them voiced it. They merely stared out at the snow as they waited.


And waited.


And waited.


"They shoulda been back here ages ago.  Where in tarnation are they?"  Applejack kept her voice low to keep from waking a gently snoring Spike.


"Oh dear, what if they're lost?"  Rarity worried.  Unfortunately this seemed like the most likely possibility.   The snow was falling thick and fast, hiding the landscape behind a drifting white veil.


The conversation seemed to break whatever spell or miracle of nature had kept Rainbow Dash motionless.  "I'll find them!"  The rainbow-haired pegasus leaped to her feet, so fired up she barely noticed her head bonking against the stone ceiling.  "I should've been out there to begin with!"


"Rainbow Dash, sit down this instant!  We need to stay together!"   Rarity was on Rainbow's trail (and she remembered to duck) as the pegasus darted out of the cave.  


Applejack followed too, frowning fiercely at the sky blue pony.   "Going out in a storm like this is just plain foolishness!   I know you got better sense than that, Rainbow!"


"Well . . . yeah.  I guess it's not such a smart plan."  For a moment Rainbow Dash seemed to deflate, lowering her head.  Just as the other two ponies relaxed, she raised her head to reveal eyes glinting with determination.   "But I still gotta try."   She spread her wings and leapt forward and up.


Applejack lunged, snapping at her tail and missing by a fraction of an inch.   Rarity helped the earth pony to her hooves and they stood side by side, helplessly watching the blizzard hide their friend far, far too quickly.


"And then there were two," Applejack said nervously, pawing at the ground.


"Guys?  Where'd everyone go?" Spike's voice floated out of the cave.


"Uh.  Make that three."



Earlier (not by much), elsewhere (not so far).


It would be nice to think that some sense of destiny or fate propelled Moonstone through the forest, but in fact he chose it simply because the amount of snow underhoof was so much less under the trees.   The evergreen branches overhead crisscrossed, dimming the sun, but nevertheless it was warmer here out of the wind.   Mwush, mwush went his hooves in the soft snow as he walked between dark, bristling spruces and tall, spindling alpine firs.


The fact that he continued on after the trees thinned and retreated can mostly be attributed to stubbornness.


It wasn't easy.   Suddenly he was struggling through snow above his knees.  Crystalline powder shimmered on the surface, but underneath it lay old snow, snow that remembered the beginning of winter and had lain all this time, crushed and compacted by every new snowfall, until it was now more like layered ice.


Moonstone found that if he walked very quickly and carefully, placing each hoof with exact precision, the hardened crust of snow would support him just long enough to give him false hope before buckling under his weight exactly as it would have if he'd used a less tiring and time-intensive approach.  After twenty feet Moonstone gave up on precision and the rainbow-haired pony moved forward through a combination of high-stepping and forward lunges.


He had just triumphantly fought his way to the top of the ridge and was enjoying the reward of a wind that numbed his ears and horn and snow that whipped straight off the drifts into his eyes when he heard a shout.  He thought he did, at least—he couldn't be sure, with the wind threatening to blow off his ears.   He screwed up his eyes against the too-white, too-bright landscape stretched in front of him and thought he saw a distant pteradactyl flapping across the sky.


He devoted more time to clearing snow out of his eyes.


When he looked up again, the clouds that had stealthily drifted in all day to blockade the blue sky had just begun releasing their first barrage of snow.   The rainbow-haired unicorn decided it was time to return to Snowvale . . . as soon as he quickly scouted out the valley below.  If he squinted, he thought he could make out movement at the far end of it.  Probably just his imagination, but . . .


 He readjusted his scarf and picked his way slowly down the slope.  The snow was falling thicker now, but so what?   He had plenty of time until dark.


Rainstorms may open with a crack of thunder, but snowstorms open with a peal of silence.   A few more flakes, bigger flakes, wetter flakes, more flakes, and still more . . . The snow and silence began to weigh down on Moonstone.  All around him the hypnotic snow tumbled down and flurried skyward and tumbled down again. The wind whistled and calmed, whistled and calmed.


The blue unicorn frowned, suffering a sudden, unpleasant epiphany.  Looking right, he could no longer see the opposite side of the valley.  There was only a constant whirl of snow.   Glancing left, he could barely see the steep slope he'd come down.   Snow was piling higher and faster.   He cursed his inattention.  The trench behind him was drifting up with new snow, although he was not seriously worried about it being filled any time soon, deep as it was.  But the more new snow, the more inches of cold he’d have to walk through.


He turned to go back.  And that's when he heard the voice.   So faint he almost missed it.


"G-giggle at the g-gho . . . sties, g-g-guffaw at the g-grossly . . ."




Again, earlier.


Pinkie Pie had tried, she'd tried really hard.   Yes, here and there she'd skimmed a mouthful of clean, powdery snow off the landscape and had sometimes traversed across the valley by somersaulting, cartwheeling, or tumbling rather than merely walking.   She quickly discovered that she was bouncing on top of a crust of snow which hid depths far greater than the few inches of loose powder she was walking through.   So naturally she burrowed down through the crispier snow, tunneling through it like a mole OR, an even better example, like a Pinkie Pie.


But for all that she had reached the far end of the valley faster than any other pony could've, except maybe Rainbow Dash.


And Fluttershy hadn't been there.


"That's funny!" Pinkie said, bouncing in place as she gazed at the spot where Fluttershy had obviously impacted—a clear silhouette of a pegasus imprinted in the snow.   But no actual pony!


Fluttershy wasn't in the sky either—and that was just really weird because Fluttershy was a slow flier, so she should've been really close if she had flown somewhere, close enough for Pinkie to see, but she wasn't, so where was she?


Pinkie wanted to find her friend so she'd looked and she'd looked and she'd looked and she'd LOOKED, and just when she was about to look some more, her Pinkie Sense went off, then it went off AGAIN!


"Double Pinkie Sense!"  she squealed.   Her tail was a-twitch, twitch, twitching and her knee was a-pinch, pinch, pinching—


"Pinchy knee!"  Pinkie Pie gasped.  "Oh no, something scary is about to happen!"   She braced herself, constructing a snow fort (perhaps not in ten seconds flat, but close) and hunkered down in it.


It began to snow.   Her tail, satisfied that something was falling from the sky as it had predicted, stopped twitching.  But her knee kept pinching.


Pinkie Pie took her Pinkie Sense seriously—as seriously as she took anything, at least—but after thirty minutes of waiting for something scary, she was bored.  Nothing had happened at all, except the snow, of course.   And she had wasted all that time worrying when she could've been catching flakes on her tongue.   But even more important, she needed to find Fluttershy, ESPECIALLY if something scary really WAS about to happen!


She bounced off across the snowy crust again, occasionally pausing to lift rocks or logs in her hunt for Fluttershy.


Eventually she reached a log and was surprised to find that she recognized its shape; both ends were kind of triangular and it reminded her of her alligator, Gummi. She spotted a set of hoofprints in snow, snowflakes gently settling in them. "Oh, I've already looked under this one! Silly Pinkie!" She giggled, ignored the pinch in her knee, and bounced off.


Later, she found the log again.   Her original hoofprints were just dents in the snow.   The second set was half buried.   Her knee was still pinchy.


Later, she found the log again.   There weren't any hoofprints around it.   Just smooth, even snow.   She massaged her knee.


Later, she didn't find the log again.   She didn't find anything.  She kept walking and walking and shivering and sometimes she would see her hoofprints in the snow and follow them for a while.  She didn't think her knee felt pinchy anymore, but it was hard to tell 'cause mostly she just felt cold.


Later, she still didn't find the log again.  There weren't any logs on the rock farm.   It was so cold in the winter.  The rocks sucked up the cold till they felt like ice, and sometimes ice got in them and they split.  That was bad so she and her sisters had to go out and put rock warmers on them so they wouldn't.   But there weren't any rocks here.   Maybe if there were rocks she could put the warmers on them and go home.  She staggered on, looking for rocks.


Later, something . . . something was floating through the sky.  Looking up made her feel like she was falling into the snowflakes, into the sky, but she wanted to see it.  "—shyyyyy!  Pinkie Piiiiiiie! Twiiilight!  Fluttershyyyyyy!  Pinkie Piiiiiiie! Twiiiiilight!”   It drifted away.  But she had seen what it was.   A rainbow!   THE rainbow.   She felt her hair.   It was coated with snow but—yes, it was poofy and curly from the rainbow.   She smiled, even though it made her feel like her face was cracking.   She walked a little ways.   She laid down.


It didn't seem so cold any more.   Somehow, that was scary.   She was scared.  Granny, there's a monster under my bed.  Pinkie, ol' Granny Pie knows how to get rid of ghosts.


Good ol' Granny Pie.   Pinkie sang.


There was a shadow spreading over her.   Pinkie vaguely remembered Granny Pie chasing them away, but right now that shadow was the best thing in the world because it wasn't falling and it wasn't white and it wasn't snow.         It said something.   She said something, she wasn't sure what.   She just didn't want the shadow to leave.  She didn't want to fall into the sky.


She squinched up her eyes to get a better look at it.  It was blue, so maybe it was the sky.   Especially since it had a rainbow.   It was a rainbow?  Wait!  She was being a silly-filly!  It had eyes.   Rainbows didn't have eyes.   Ponies had eyes.   "R-r-rainbow Dash?"


The rainbow (only not) said something.


Pinkie Pie thought of something.  Something vitally important. She told it, "I n-n-need to warm up the r-rocks.”


Then she didn't think anything for a while.



Links: [<< Chapter 1 | Chapter 3 >>]


Chapter 3

by Lady Moondancer

Links: [<< Chapter 2 |]

Moonstone pushed his way into the Come On Inn with stiff movements.   Ringing the service bell on the desk, he waited for the innkeeper to appear and the feeling to return to his hooves.


"Oh, hello Mr. Moonstone!  Did you have a nice stroll?"   A light blue unicorn mare, her white hair streaked with pink, emerged from the back room followed by a reddish poodle suffering from a sweater.  The dog yapped at him as mushy clumps of snow sidled down his rainbow mane; the mare merely tsked.  "You shouldn't have left without your coat, you'll catch your death of cold."


"Actually, I have it right here."   Moonstone reached around and picked a bundle off his back.  The bulky expanse of his quilted winter coat was tied up with one very scratchy green woolen scarf.


"What's this, some kind of present?" The innkeeper poked it, then drew back in alarm as it moaned.  "Goodness."  The mare turned the bundle around and located a small pink snout poking out of it.


"I found a pony," Moonstone said unnecessarily.  He grabbed the scarf and pulled, rolling the pony in question out of his coat.  "A baby pony, out in the middle of the snow."


The pink earth pony was small, only half the size of the unicorns, and perhaps the fact that she was significantly leaner than the typical baby pony added to her general air of patheticness. The melting snow had split her hair into a mess of tangled strands that clung to her cheeks and neck, while her hooves and face were blistered in places.  Her eyes were closed, but she moaned softly now and then.


"Oh, poor little thing!" the white and pink haired mare patted the filly’s cheek gently.


"Rainboooow daaaash . . ."


"She keeps saying that," Moonstone said with a flick of his colorful tail, trying to sound more sympathetic than annoyed.  He'd made EXCELLENT time back to Snowvale, thank you very much!  "If you could locate her parents . . ."


"Say no more!  Now let me think.  It can't be Baby Snowflake because he's a colt . . . and Baby Molasses' mane is two colors.  Pink and blue.  Or do I mean white and blue? Green and white?"


Moonstone slipped away, retreating with the carefree step of a pony who has hooked a problem to someone else's plow.  He could hardly wait for a good night's sleep after a hot bath.  He entered his room, pushed open the bathroom door—


Drip, drip, drip, (slightly longer than expected pause), driiiiip.


He closed the bathroom door.


He returned to the front desk.   The innkeeper had rolled the small pink pony in Moonstone's coat again.   Her head poking out of the wrap of fabric was an odd echo of the little poodle beside the desk, staring out of the turtleneck that threatened to swallow it.   The dog gave a gruff bark to alert the blue unicorn mare, who didn't look up from her monologue.


"—and it can't be Baby Sniffles, she's just a newborn."


"Excuse me."  Moonstone rang the bell for good measure.  "I'd like a different room."


"Hm?"  The mare looked up.  "Oh no, you don't want to move, Mr. Moonstone.  You've got the best suite in the inn.  Five feet longer than the others!"  The mare beamed at him, not making the slightest move towards the row of keys hanging behind her on little hooks, neatly labeled.


"The faucet drips.  Constantly."


"Nice and steady, isn't it?  Like an old grandfather clock."


"Then give it to an old grandfather!" Moonstone snapped. "I want a new room."


"I'm sorry, Mr. Moonstone, I can't do that to the other guests."


"The other . . ." He rubbed his face with his hoof. "What other guests?  I haven't seen another pony in the building besides you!"


The poodle growled, but its owner seemed unperturbed.  "Well, we don't have any right now, but what if a big party came in of a sudden?  They'd all want rooms next to each other.  And your room is right at the end.   Five feet longer than any of the others, too!"


Moonstone sputtered incoherently, which the innkeeper seemed to take as the signal for a change of topic.   "You know, I don't think this poor little mite comes from Snowvale at all.  We don't have any young ones who are all pink.  Especially not with balloons on their flanks.  Now, if she had snowflakes, or icicles or snowballs or snowdrifts or mittens—"


"I get the idea."  Moonstone looked down at the small pink pony.  The coat she was wrapped in twitched a little.  "Then where did she come from?  Some other village?"


"None for miles and miles around here.  You didn't see any other ponies out there? Parents?"


"No."  Uneasily, Moonstone hoped he hadn't walked right by them in the snow.


"Well, I'm sure she'll be able to shed some light on the matter once she wakes up.  For now she just needs a soak in warm water."


"Ah yes . . . treatment for frostbite."  Moonstone had seen it before.  And experienced it, once or twice.


"Not bad though.  Now, Tossles got a nasty case of it!  He lost his boot and his right leg, or was it his left leg? no it was his right, turned funny colors and we thought he was going to lose it.  BUT," the innkeep said as she turned to flick a key off the row of hooks, "he pulled through and it was good as new.  And then, would you believe, later that winter that same leg got bitten clean off!"  


"Whuh . . ."


"By a bear.  Of course we told him not to pet it," she said matter-of-factly, dropping the key on the counter with a ting.


Moonstone ratcheted his jaw closed and put bears out of his mind, replacing them with the image of that little doorkey with "#5" taped on it.   "You're putting the filly in Room 5?  Why don't I take care of that?  I've dealt with frostbite before."


"Oh, how kind of you to offer, Mr. Moonstone.  That would be a great help.  We do get so busy around here!"


"Not at all.  Not at all."   He levitated the pink pony onto his back, picked up the key in his teeth, and trotted around the corner to Room 5.


The first thing he did was check Number 5's bathroom.  Blessed silence greeted him.   The fake silver finish might have    worn off the tap in places, but it didn't leak.   With a smirk, Moonstone proceeded to his own room, Room 1.   The clearly audible dripping just made him smile grimly now. It was a tattoo beating on the drums of war, a war that was going to lose.  That was to say, the war itself wouldn't lose, but one side of the war would, the side with the tattoo.  Of the drums.   The faucet side.   Yeees.


Moonstone abandoned the metaphor, kicked on the faucet, and picked the filly off his back.  To say that he dumped her into the bathtub would be a gross exaggeration.   He just levitated the bundled winter coat over the basin and sort of . . . gently shook it out.


"Hmm . . ."  He tapped his chin with a powder blue hoof.  The filly's unconscious state was causing problems.  Specifically, she was lying with her nose underwater.   He pushed her upright.  She fell over backwards with a splash, bubbles gently rising from her nostrils.  He tried to balance her muzzle on the edge of the tub but her face slid off it, squeaking down the porcelain with a sound akin to a balloon being rubbed across a window.   Moonstone hastily pulled her up, trying once again to prop her in a sitting position.  Unfortunately her front legs kept sliding out from under her.   It did not help that she was so buoyant that her back end kept trying to float away.


Finally Moonstone draped her over the edge of the tub like a limp noodle.  While her rear half soaked in warm water, he wrapped her front legs in towels soaked in hot water and dropped a steaming washcloth over her face for good measure. Even then he had to keep a close watch to prevent her from ever so slowly sliiiiding bonelessly back into the tub.  Great skies above, it was like this pony was made of rubber.   After an hour he decided the filly must be thoroughly thawed.  He pulled her out, blotting her off with the last few dry towels, and tucked her into the bed in Room 1.  


Moonstone barely had enough energy to drag himself down the hall to Room 5 and shower himself off.  His original plan had been to transfer his saddlebags, maps, money, and of course the parchment into Room 5 as well, but he was just too exhausted.  At one point he nearly nodded off to sleep in the shower, but fortunately the inn ran out of hot water just then.


"I'll move my things tomorrow," he muttered to himself as he fell into bed.  "I'll have plenty of time then."


This supposition would prove to be incorrect.



Earlier, not far from a familiar snowy field


"Ohhhh . . ."  Fluttershy rubbed the lump on her head and tried to remember what had happened.  The last thing she recalled, a snowy patch of ground was shooting up to meet her at an alarming speed.  She stood up shakily and discovered she was now in a small copse of trees.  "How did I get here?"


"Raaaarck!"  Turning, she discovered the leathery-winged pterodactyl was sitting beside her, looking proud.


"Oh!   I see . . . you brought me somewhere warmer, is that it?"  


"Rawr rarck roooook!"  He flapped his wings.  The yellow pony giggled as the beast nibbled affectionately at her hair.


Her expression sobered as she walked to the edge of the trees and found it was set in a valley with nopony in it, its landscaping confined to smooth, featureless snow interrupted by the little stand of trees she was in and a frozen pond in the middle.   The presence of snow told her something was seriously amiss, but she tried to ignore her pounding heart and pushed away her panic;  she just needed to keep calm and be assertive.


She turned to the pterodactyl.  "Well, I appreciate your help very much, but I need to get back to my friends now, if you don't mind," she said.  Assertively.


The flying reptile clicked its beak in a friendly way and half-opened its wings.   Fluttershy gulped, bravely climbed onto its broad back, and only squeaked a little bit when the pterodactyl galumphed across the snow and took to the air.


"I was so assertive," she whispered aloud, quite happy as long as she held on tightly and kept her eyes squeezed shut so she couldn't see how close the ground wasn't.


"Raaawrck!" responded the reptile beneath her, sounding quite happy too.




"Ohhhh . . ."   The yellow warmblood sat up shakily, like a newly hatched chick.  "Wah wah wah wah?"


"<Hello friendly four-leg!>"


"Oh!  Wah wah . . . wah wah wah wah?"


"<I am pleased you are safe despite a certain clumsiness of flight which I will ignore out of politeness.  I carried you to this place of under the trees where you will be safe from ravening thunder-beasts (referring of course to the giant knife-tooth-two-leg thunder-beasts, not the small and agile hook-claw-also-two-leg thunder-beasts which unfortunately could easily fit under the trees, but what can you do?)>"


The yellow four-leg walked to the edge of the trees and peered out, then turned to look at him.  "Wah wah wah wah, wah waaah wah wah."


<"I deduce from your strange garbles and body language that you want a ride?  As unusual as that request is, I find you oddly adorable and am unable to resist.">  He half-opened his wings and the four-leg confirmed his suspicions by climbing cautiously onto his back.   As he took flight, small squeals from the yellow creature made him wonder if it was hungry.  He resolved to regurgitate food down its gullet the first chance he got.


"Wah wah wah wah-wah-wah," the creature warbled, very softly.


"<I cannot wait to see what new and unusual lands we discover either!"> he replied happily, heading for unknown horizons.


From this encounter, we can draw two conclusions.


First, that one conversation divided by two equals trouble.


Second, that pterodactyls have a very efficient language.





"Rainbow Dash, I swear t' Celestia I'm gonna pull out your feathers one by one."


"Look, they didn't SAY they were pirates, all right?!"





Applejack chewed her lip as she huddled with Rarity and Spike in the crevice, all three visibly worried.  "Where in tarnation is everypony?" Applejack muttered.  "It's gettin' dark."   Her expression changed to one of relief as she looked outside.   "Oh, thank all things apples! It's Rainbow Dash!!"  She squinted.  "Oh . . . an' it looks like she brought 'long some new friends."

Links: [<< Chapter 2 |]